Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Cheap Thrills

By Jeffrey Lee

MARCH 2, 1998:  Some of Stacy Hawkinson's materials have a deliberate thrift-store look--cheap printed papers and fabrics half-exposed under swaths of paint--and the images that emerge from them are thrift-store images. They look culled from a family snapshot album. The retro iconography is even augmented, in the Hawkinson/Gregory Ellis show at the ARC Gallery, with lovingly selected attic detritus, shiny radios and handbags and the like. Ellis, too, uses borrowed images, some with a vague Life magazine or old textbook flavor. The name of the show is Ordinary Madness, but it might have been called Yard Sale.

The goofy/sarcastic charm of nostalgic images is pretty seductive. So is the sheer tactile and visual novelty of oddball materials: Hawkinson's tacky upholstery and wallpapery fabrics, Ellis' thick wood slabs and wire mesh. That charm and novelty can overwhelm an artist if it becomes the work's end rather than its means. Making good art requires not only a capacity to summon something new out of image and medium but also a determined idea of what that new thing is and means. I think that's a problem for these two artists.

An untitled piece of Gregory Ellis' is composed of small, rather poorly painted images (a nude, a heart) on thick wood into which he has sunk, in even rows, scores of nickels. In another, the awkward figure of a woman, also painted on wood, peeks from a window cut out of the heavy layers of wire screen that cover the painting's surface. These pieces give the impression of trying out new things, of an experiment that didn't work. The components don't come together; they have a randomness that diffuses, rather than focuses, attention.

One pleasure of Stacy Hawkinson's collaged paintings is her evident affection for the hokey, poppish materials she uses. A background of what looks like a checkered vinyl tablecloth in one painting has none of the slick meanness of a Warhol, for example; it's genuinely likable, like a Joe Brainard flower pattern. But Hawkinson doesn't quite communicate what it is she wants her materials to do. Maybe she's not exactly sure. The application of paint, mostly in unmixed primary colors, is big, awkward and not particularly thoughtful; its purpose seems to be to make the pictures look like art. And as with several of Ellis' pictures, the draftsmanship is extremely uncertain. Her painted and drawn figures range from fairly accomplished to barely competent. A clever use of unusual media cannot mask poor technique.

Both Stacy Hawkinson and Gregory Ellis display the curiosity and willingness to experiment that are crucial to good art-making. But both seem to have allowed their curiosity to be satisfied a little too easily. An experiment is valuable in itself to the artist; to the viewer, it is only valuable when it has arrived at a sure, communicative result.


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